By: Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent
- Will Kubica return this season?
- Hamilton’s antics in the spotlight
- Red flag regulations under scrutiny
Will Kubica return this season?
After his horrible accident on February 6 this year, it is still not clear whether Lotus Renault driver Robert Kubica will return to his cockpit this season. The Pole was badly injured during a rally in Italy and was in fact lucky he survived it to begin with. After numerous operations in an Italian hospital Kubica has now left hospital and started his rehabilitation program under the supervision of doctor Ricardo Ceccarelli and his manager Daniele Morelli.
There has been a lot of speculation about when Kubica will return to Formula One, and for some the question is even if he will ever return. Morelli has of course done a great public relations job and has kept his protégé out of the wind, but now four months after the accident things are starting to look a bit bleak. Kubica has not given any personal interviews, no photos of him were published for four months, and although he is now home in his Monaco apartment to work on his rehabilitation, the 26-year old driver has remained silent.
Genii Capital and Renault F1 owner Gerard Lopez hinted last week Kubica would certainly not return this season, “Robert has survived a spectacular accident and now he has to do the hardest thing, to recover fully, which is something that nobody knows whether he will succeed. Not him, nor the doctors, nor us. We will probably manage for him to do a Friday session at some point in the year, but for sure his return this season will not be possible.”
Morelli however, has rubbished Lopez’ remarks and refuses to write off Kubica for the rest of the season. “I think you have to ask Lopez why he made such a statement that is in clear opposition to what the specialists are saying,” he said in Monaco. “All the doctors, not only ours... are not writing off Robert for this season. I think that Lopez's statement is incorrect.”
About the suggestion Kubica could be back in the car for a Friday practice session at some point this year, Morelli was also clear. “Robert, when he will be back, he will be back for racing and there will be no need to make a control of his capability in a Friday session, if Robert is sufficiently fit to drive a Formula One car for one lap he can do it for a whole weekend,” the Italian said.
”He's working a lot, we have a standard of five hours a day for the rehabilitation of the leg and of his arm. There are no complications at this stage and we are forecasting August as the month when we will have a clearer idea of when Robert can be back,” he commented.
But is everything really going according to plan? Only a handful of people know exactly what his condition is, Kubica has watched the Monaco Grand Prix at home on TV, but as Morelli put it, did not visit the paddock ‘to avoid being mobbed by well-wishers’. His return will also depend on whether he will full regain the functionality of his arm and hand.
Of course, you cannot really forecast and predict what will be the final functionality
”There is an increase in the movement of his hand. He can grab things now, although what is missing is strength, the muscles are very weak, but this is not a concern because he just needs to do training,” Morelli commented last weekend. “Of course, you cannot really forecast and predict what will be the final functionality.” The initial predictions were that an assessment of his recovery could be made in June, but Morelli now stated it would be August before anyone can tell whether he will fully regain the functionality of his hand.
And although everyone in Formula One wants the Pole to return to his Lotus Renault cockpit, there is a lot of uncertainty, his absence from the Monaco paddock is food for thought, as is the fact he hasn’t given any interviews, and no pictures of an optimistic and confident Kubica, which would prove he is in good shape, have been published. Nevertheless we wish Kubica a speedy recovery, and hopefully we will see him back, as he is driver with a lot of determination and enough talent to become the next Formula One World Champion.
Hamilton’s antics still in the spotlight
McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton was at loggerheads with the FIA stewards in Monaco last weekend, who in his eyes, had made the wrong decisions. “Hey, you know what? I’ve been to the stewards, out of six races I’ve been to the stewards five times. It’s a joke. It’s an absolute ‘frickin’ joke,” he told BBC reporter Lee McKenzie immediately after the race.
Especially the British media covered Hamilton’s comments with headlines like: “Foolish Lewis: Hamilton forced into crawling apology after crass Ali G race joke; Penalized Hamilton threatens to quit F1 if he can't race in his own way; Lewis caught in racism row; Lewis: Shackle me and I’ll quit F1; Lewis Hamilton has to learn to lose after Monaco GP mayhem; Lewis Hamilton left seeing red; Hamilton sorry over 'black joke'.”
The Briton tried to overtake Felipe Massa in his Ferrari on the inside of the Loews hairpin, a move that was by some perceived as courageous, and by others seen as ridiculous. The fact remains Hamilton knew Massa would at some point have no other option than to turn into the corner, which in fact was the reason he was penalized for ‘an avoidable collision’. The two tangled wheels, but Massa nevertheless managed to stay ahead of him, but his car was damaged and Hamilton again took the inside line in the tunnel, forcing Massa onto the dirty part of the track.
The rest is history, Massa ran wide and ended up in the barrier. Massa was certainly not happy, “After Hamilton had tried to pass me at Loews, which is an impossible place to do it, the car was no longer right and I could not drive it properly, which is why he got on the inside of me inside the tunnel.”
And the Brazilian added, “What he did today was unbelievable. Not just with me, but with other drivers as well. I think he needs to be penalized again, and in a good way, otherwise he doesn't learn. They [FIA] need to think about something for him, or he will not learn.”
Pastor Maldonado became the second victim just a few laps before the end of the race. Hamilton wanted to overtake the Venezuelan at Sainte Devote just like he had done with Michael Schumacher a few laps after the race had started, but this time was too optimistic and after Maldonado turned into the corner he hit the McLaren and ended up in the barrier. Again, Hamilton should have known Maldonado would have to steer into the corner at some point, and that was the reason he received his second penalty.
What I think is that he has run a race that is not that of a Formula One champion
Maldonado about the incident, “Hamilton was so far back I wasn't even looking for him. I don't know what he was thinking. It's a bit sad but these things happen in races. What I think is that he has run a race that is not that of a Formula One champion.”
When asked about his version of the events that involved Massa and Maldonado the 2008 Champion was certainly convinced of his own innocence, “You know, you can’t overtake here and very, very rarely do you ever get an opportunity. I was quite a lot quicker than Massa. I went up the inside and the guy turned so early and just, turned into me. And I tried to go over the kerb to avoid him and we’re stuck together, and so, I mean, it was just…”
And he continued, “And of course I get the penalty, which is usual. He held me up in qualifying and I got the penalty. He turned into me and I got the penalty. And then I went up the inside of Maldonado, and you can see on the screen he turned in a good car length too early to stop me from overtaking him and crashed into me. I mean, it’s just ridiculous. These drivers are absolutely ‘frickin’ ridiculous. It’s stupid.”
But it was his ‘Ali G’ remark that raised the eyebrows, “Maybe it’s ‘cos I’m black. That’s what Ali G says! I don’t know.” Although meant as a joke, it was nevertheless a very bad idea to say the least, to suggest any form of racism was involved in the decisions of the stewards.
After this now infamous interview Hamilton left the circuit, but returned a few hours later to see the stewards. The theory now is that Hamilton has spoken with his father Anthony and McLaren, and came to the conclusion the FIA might see these remarks as ‘bringing the sport in disrepute’ as described in Article 151c, and could even face a race ban, which would make it even more difficult to win this year’s championship, and therefore subsequently decided to go back to the circuit to see the stewards and explain his bad joke.
The FIA revealed on Monday they are investigating the incident and are now ‘gathering all the relevant information’ to see whether his remarks have indeed brought the sport in disrepute. Of course one can argue Hamilton was still upset when he made those remarks, but the fact remains he was at fault during those two overtaking maneuvers and he could have avoided a collision.
Hamilton was confident after his meeting with the stewards, ”The stewards said at the end that they would make sure other people in the FIA understand, and that anybody else who has heard it and misunderstood, that they'll clarify it with them and it won't go any further than the meeting room.”
On Monday Hamilton apologized for his remarks on Twitter, “ 2 Massa & Maldonado, with the greatest respect I apologize if I offended u. Both of u r fantastic drivers who I regard highly.” But whether just apologizing to solve the problem is sufficient for the FIA, remains to be seen…
Red flag regulations under scrutiny
Monaco provided a thrilling Grand Prix for spectators all around the world last weekend, until the red flag was waved on lap 72 and the race was suspended after Vitaly Petrov had crashed into the barrier of the swimming pool section of the circuit. Three drivers had until that moment provided most of the action, Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button.
Much to everyone’s surprise, teams were allowed to work on the cars, repair the damage and were even allowed to change the tyres. The only restrictions in the regulations is that refueling is prohibited, not a surprise, as refueling was banned altogether last year. The regulations have been like that for decades, but now those regulations effectively killed the race, the top three were on new tyres for the last six laps, and the spectators were robbed of a three-way battle to the finish line.
So why are teams allowed to change the tyres? The answer is safety. Not only accidents can provoke a red flag, but also torrential rainfall like during the 2009 Chinese GP is a very good reason to suspend a race, and if the race is resumed, it would, from a safety point of view, be ridiculous if drivers had to restart the race on slicks. However, this was certainly not the case in Monaco, and many have asked for a change in the regulations.
One of the stewards was Allan McNish, a very experienced racing driver, and although he is not really allowed to criticize the FIA regulations, he does have an opinion about the red flag regulations. He compared them with the Le Mans regulations, where teams are not allowed to work on the car when the race is suspended.
“It's complete Parc Fermé regulations,” McNish said, “You can't work on the car in any way whatsoever. Even if you have bodywork damage you can't repair it, you've got to restart the race as you finished, so that if you've got a good strategy or a bad strategy, you have to restart as if nothing had happened.”
And he was right, with the cars in the same condition as before the suspension, the restart and the outcome of the Monaco Grand Prix could have been very different. There was no rain which could have justified the change of tyres. Vettel was on very old tyres and he was seconds slower than Alonso and Button behind him. Whether those last six laps would have been sufficient for Alonso or Button to pass Vettel we will never know, but at least they would have had a chance to fight for it, with all three now on a new set of Pirellis, the race was effective over.
Pirelli Sport Director Paul Hembery, “I had a lot of people shouting at me from the boats around the harbour, saying ‘Why were they allowed to change? I don’t really understand why they are allowed to change tires. It was a shame.” And added, “It took away something from the race -- and the big question was could they have lasted? That is what we were all asking with six laps to go and that was going to be the excitement: would Sebastian hit the tyre degradation cliff?”
But will the FIA change the regulations? The problem is that the regulations, apart from refueling, don’t say what is, and what is not allowed: ”Cars may be worked on once they have stopped on the grid or entered the pits but any such work must not impede the resumption of the race.” Which means everything, including changing tyres, is allowed.
Perhaps the FIA could tweak the rules, but they would have to introduce a complete new set of regulations to describe what exactly is allowed, besides that and the fact that would take weeks if not months to do that, the FIA has in the past been very reluctant to change the regulations in the middle of the season.
Join us again next week for another episode of “Formula One: On and off track”